There is a scene in the small but wonderful film, “The Way, Way Back” in which the 14-year-old lead character discovers a bicycle in the garage of his mother’s new boyfriend’s summer cottage where he has been trapped for what promises to be a torturous summer. With a spectacular blast of background music he breaks out of the garage on the diminutive bike and rides away with a new sense of freedom.
The scene struck a deep chord for me, because it brought back memories of my childhood, when, each day after school to escape the constant shouting and threatening that surrounded me in my garden apartment in Queens, I would ride as far away as I could on my bike until I became just a bit lost, and then eventually find my way home. I remember never really wanting to go home, and trying to calculate ways to run away, but as a young child I of course didn’t have the wherewithal.
I remember the sense of freedom I had when riding my bike, the sense of movement and the rush of air over my face, and even a more acute sense of smell. When I left Queens at age 10 we moved to Framingham, Massachusetts, and lived on a street located on a small hill. At age 10 the hill wasn’t so small, and I distinctly remember getting on my bike at the top of the hill, raising both hands in the air, and closing my eyes as the bike picked up speed on the way down. I could even turn the corner at the bottom of the hill with no hands and no sight, just the sensation of the bike beneath me and the air blowing over my chest and face.
That habit ended when one day I took the turn at the bottom of the hill and hit a parked car. I was thrown first into the handles, which knocked the wind out of me, then tossed onto the trunk of the car to be stopped by the rear window. The car was dented, and I was bruised, but nothing else broke.
In high school in California I learned to drive, and that was my greatest ticket to freedom. I would work as many jobs as I could during high school just to pay for gas and I would drive my ‘65 Barracuda (which I bought used for $500.) until the gas was half gone, then turn around and see if I could make it home before I ran out. I didn’t think of it at the time, but that is what I did as a young child on the bicycle.
My cousin Peter flies an open cockpit Raven, which he took me for a ride in when I visited him in the Philippines. With an open cockpit and the propeller pushing from behind us, it was the closest thing to flying without benefit of an airplane I had ever experienced. The wind in his face served as the airspeed indicator, and I couldn’t help flashing back to riding my bicycle downhill with my eyes closed as a child.
I am not a thrill-seeker, but when the thrill seeks me I won’t resist it. I had a couple of close calls when flying the rickety Cessna 150 during my training, close enough to insist that when I could afford to I would buy the safest airplane my wallet could handle. Eventually I did just that, a Diamond DA-40, which had the best safety record in the industry. When I bought it, I made sure to add the optional extra large fuel tanks so that I could go as far as I could without having to land, just as I did as a child when I mounted my bicycle and rode it as far away from home as my legs could take me, or drove my Barracuda as far as I could on the most gas I could afford before having to turn back. Opening the throttle to the stop as I roll down the runway, I could swear the engine sounds like a full orchestra, generating the lift needed to take me away from the earth, with all of its constant shouting and conflict.